Efficiency Is Concerned With Doing Things Right. Effectiveness Is Doing the Right Things

Peter Drucker? Elsie Robinson? Warren Bennis? Stephen R. Covey? Glenn J. Shanahan? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: In the domain of business and entrepreneurship two contrasting statements yield a crucial insight:

  • Efficiency is doing things right.
  • Effectiveness is doing the right things.

The most successful organizations require both efficiency and effectiveness. Another version highlights the following two ideas:

  • Management is doing things right.
  • Leadership is doing the right things.

These notions have been attributed to the famous management guru Peter Drucker and the influential Professor of Business Warren Bennis. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Peter Drucker did present this concept multiple times. Warren Bennis also employed this notion. See citations further below. The elegance of the formulation stems from the use of antimetabole: words in successive clauses are repeated in transposed order. QI believes that the phrasing evolved over time.

In 1869 the “Harrisburg Telegraph” of Pennsylvania printed the following short item displaying antimetabole. The words “efficiency” and “effectiveness” were absent. Boldface added to excerpts: 1

A DIFFERENCE.—There is a difference between doing a thing right, and doing the right thing. One individual may be engaged in a very bad work, and yet do his work well. Another may be engaged in a laudable undertaking and do his work very poorly. The true maxim is, “do the right thing right.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1934 the columnist Elsie Robinson wrote about “efficiency” and employed antimetabole. Her point was somewhat different than the full saying under examination, and the word “effectiveness” was absent: 2

You wonder about efficiency, wistfully, in bewilderment. Just what is efficiency, anyway? You think you know. You think efficiency means doing things right. If you’d had your chance—a better education, a different family—you could do things right, too.

No; you are wrong! Efficiency doesn’t just mean doing things right It means something much more difficult than that.




In 1963 Peter Drucker published a piece titled “Managing for Business Effectiveness” in the “Harvard Business Review”. He used antimetabole to contrast “effectiveness” and “efficiency”: 3

What is the major problem? It is fundamentally the confusion between effectiveness and efficiency that stands between doing the right things and doing things right. There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all. Yet our tools—especially our accounting concepts and data—all focus on efficiency. What we need is (1) a way to identify the areas of effectiveness (of possible significant results), and (2) a method for concentrating on them.

In 1965 “The Financial Post” printed a digest of a lecture delivered by Peter Drucker at the University of Toronto during which he employed an instance of the quotation: 4

Efficiency attempts to do things right; it deals with the ratio between input and output. Effectiveness is concerned with doing the right things; it deals with the quality rather than the quantity of results and output.

Efficiency is not unimportant. A business can easily die of inefficiency. But no business can survive, let alone grow, because it is efficient.

In 1971 a political candidate named Glenn J. Shanahan who was profiled in “The Wichita Eagle” of Kansas employed an instance: 5

I favor commission – manager form of government, recognizing right of citizens to determine changes. City government must be effective (doing right things) and efficient (doing things right), with elected commission responsible to people in . . .

In 1974 Peter Drucker’s popular book “Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices” contained an instance: 6

Effectiveness is the foundation of success—efficiency is a minimum condition for survival after success has been achieved. Efficiency is concerned with doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.

In 1985 the authors of “Re-Inventing the Corporation: Transforming Your Job and Your Company for the New Information Society” attributed an instance contrasting “leaders” and “managers” to Professor of Business Warren Bennis: 7

“Successful CEOs see themselves as leaders, not managers,” says Professor Bennis. “They were concerned with their organization’s basic purposes, why it exists, its general direction . . . not with ‘nuts and bolts’ . . . not with ‘doing things right’ (the overriding concern of managers) but with ‘doing the right thing.’”

In 1989 self-help author Stephen R. Covey referred to both Drucker and Bennis in his best-seller “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”: 8

Management is a bottom line focus: How can I best accomplish certain things? Leadership deals with the top line: What are the things I want to accomplish? In the words of both Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.

In 1997 Warren Bennis published “Managing People Is Like Herding Cats” in which he contrasted “leading” with “managing”: 9

Every leader needs a flight plan since leading means doing the right things, and managing means doing things right.

Bennis also contrasted the task of the CEO and the COO: 10

On paper, the differences between the two jobs are very clear. The CEO is the leader, the COO the manager. The CEO is charged with doing the right thing, the COO with doing things right. The CEO takes the long view, the COO the short view.

In 1997 “Proverb Wit & Wisdom” compiled by Louis A. Berman included the following entry: 11

Efficiency is concerned with doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.
Peter F. Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices

In conclusion, these sayings evolved over time. QI thinks Peter Drucker can reasonably be credited with the versions mentioning efficiency versus effectiveness presented in his 1963 article, his 1965 speech, and his 1974 book. Also, there is evidence that Warren Bennis should receive credit for the versions contrasting leading and managing as in his 1997 book.

(Great thanks to John Simpson whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Also, thanks to previous quotation compilers / researchers Louis A. Berman, James B. Simpson, Bill Swainson, and Leonard Roy Frank. Special thanks to Barry Popik for his efforts on this topic recorded on his website.)



  1. 1869 August 28, Harrisburg Telegraph, (Filler item), Quote Page 3, Column 2, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1934 April 18, The Shreveport Times, Listen World! by Elsie Robinson, Quote Page 8, Column 4,Shreveport, Louisiana. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1963 May, Harvard Business Review (HBR), Article: Managing for Business Effectiveness, Author: Peter F. Drucker, Description: Magazine and website about management published by Harvard University of Massachusetts. (Accessed hbr.org April 6, 2021) link
  4. 1965 March 6, The Financial Post, Do you do things right, or do the right things? by Peter Drucker, (Digest of a lecture delivered this week at the University of Toronto), Quote Page 7, Column 1, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1971 April 4, The Wichita Eagle, The Wichita Eagle, Voter’s Guide: Glenn J. (Jack) Shanahan, Quote Page 6B, Column 6, Wichita, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1974, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices by Peter F. Drucker, Chapter 4: The Dimensions of Management, Quote Page 45, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified with scans)
  7. 1985, Re-Inventing the Corporation: Transforming Your Job and Your Company for the New Information Society by John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene, Chapter 1: Re-inventing the Corporation, Quote Page 20 and 21, Warner Books, New York. (Verified with scans)
  8. 1989, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic by Stephen R. Covey, Habit 2: Begin With the End In Mind, Quote Page 101, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)
  9. 1997 Copyright, Managing People Is Like Herding Cats by Warren Bennis, Chapter 22: Introducing Change, Quote Page 159, (Epigraph of Chapter 22) Executive Excellence Publishing, Provo, Utah. (Verified with scans)
  10. 1997 Copyright, Managing People Is Like Herding Cats by Warren Bennis, Chapter 24: Too Many Chiefs, Quote Page 172, Executive Excellence Publishing, Provo, Utah. (Verified with scans)
  11. 1997, Proverb Wit & Wisdom: A Treasury of Proverbs, Parodies, Quips, Quotes, Clichés, Catchwords, Epigrams, and Aphorisms, Compiled by Louis A. Berman With Assistance by Daniel K. Berman, Quote Page 99, A Perigee Book: The Berkley Publishing Group, New York. (Verified with scan)